We’ve already written about the basics of staying healthy in college—eating well, exercising, and using all the health-related services Columbia provides, to name a few—but there’s much more to health and happiness than just avoiding getting sick. Luckily for you incoming first-years, we’ve asked a handful of last year’s first-years to share their advice, know-hows, and ~words of wisdom~ with you.
Here are 12 ways your class of 2020 friends learned to keep themselves healthy and happy during their first year at Columbia.
Get your flu shot
Your mom isn’t here to remind you. Disease spreads like wildfire in the dorms, and last winter was no exception. Prevent getting the flu (and even better, prevent being that person who gets the flu first and winds up sharing it with their entire floor) by getting your flu shot.
Before flu season starts, Barnard and Columbia’s respective health services (as well as dozens of nearby pharmacies and clinics like Duane Reade and Rite Aid) will offer flu shots, free to those on the school’s insurance and at relatively low cost (usually around $20) for those who have an outside provider. Put an event or reminder in your phone for mid-September or October to make sure you get covered. (And in the unfortunate event that you do get sick, here are the cheapest places around to pick up some flu and cold-kicking medicine.)
Make your bed every morning and wash your sheets often
Not only will it make your room look nicer, but making your bed every morning is actually proven to make you more feel productive and fulfilled, leading to a greater sense of accomplishment throughout the day. Starting the day by completing this one task will help put you in the right mindset to complete all the tasks coming your way.
Additionally, you should aim to wash your sheets regularly, about once every other week. Your sheets harbor all types of bacteria that could be harmful and make you sick. If you suffer from allergies, wash your sheets even more frequently to avoid being affected by dust mites.
Sharing can be caring, but not when it comes to cups and eye makeup
It’s a safe assumption to make that everybody you come into contact with has some sort of illness, even if they aren’t feeling or showing the effects of it. (For instance, diseases like mono often don’t exhibit symptoms.) If you’re at a party or any other social gathering, or if you and your roommate share a shelf for cups and cutlery, be conscious about not drinking from a cup that someone has already used.
The same idea goes for makeup. Everybody loves to look good on a night out, but not at the risk of an eye infection. Don’t share your mascara or eyeliner with others (seriously, eye bacteria is gross, folks).
Make a workout schedule
It’s so easy to get caught up in hustle and bustle of everyday life at Columbia that students often end up hitting the snooze button instead of getting up and dragging themselves to Dodge. By setting yourself a fitness goal for the semester, you’ll be doing your body a favor. Even if your plan is only to walk or run for 15 minutes a day, or you aren’t able to stick to your fitness regimen every day, setting realistic goals can help with your self-motivation and will make you feel better. (Plus, exercising has so many physical and mental health benefits.)
Ladies: pee after sex
This one is kind of self-explanatory. However, keep in mind that the stress of college and the fact that you’ll be living in close proximity to loads of other people are likely to weaken your immune system, meaning that any UTI you do get will take longer to clear up, and may require antibiotics. If anything, do this to save yourself from a trip to health services, which will inevitably take up half your day.
Experiment and find where you study best
People learn and thrive in all different ways. While your friend may study best in the Altschul lounge, you may find your groove in the Butler stacks. Trial and error during your first few weeks here will help you find the study environment that works best for your productivity. (You have a ton of study spaces to choose from.)
Editor’s note: Some people really are at their most productive when they study in their rooms, but all too often first-years confine themselves to their dorm because they’re either too intimidated, tired, or overwhelmed to explore elsewhere. (I was—and to a certain extent still am—one of those people.) Make an effort to get out of your dorm room and see what study spaces are around campus. If you try it and don’t like it that’s fine, but at least give yourself the chance to find a more productive, new study space.
Stay away from energy drinks whenever possible
It seems like a given that, once assignments and finals roll around, college students consume more milligrams of caffeine than they do water. But those energy drinks have really terrible effects on your health and can ruin your sleeping routine. Plus (not to spoil everything for you), some studies have even shown that energy drinks can have little to no effect on your actual productivity. Sticking to coffee, tea, and other more natural substances in moderation will help you feel better in the long run.
Read for pleasure
Reading something that you actually enjoy (and that’s not on the syllabus) can have incredible effects on your health and mood—your stress levels automatically go down when you’re reading something you love? Reading a book with somebody else or joining a book club can also help you find some new friends with similar interests (Barnard has a book clubthat’s open to all four schools, if anyone’s interested.)
Flip-flops in the shower. Always.
The idea of using protection should extend to the showers, too. All types of gross things have been in those showers that you don’t want touching your feet. (Seriously—the cleaning staff is great, but bathrooms pick up germs so quickly it can feel like those showers haven’t been sanitized in years.)
End unhealthy and unproductive relationships
The people you meet and befriend during accepted students’ days and NSOP aren’t necessarily destined to be your best friends forever. While it’s important to make and foster healthy relationships, don’t be afraid to let go of relationships that don’t feel right—whether it’s one from back home or one you recently made.
Use a firewall on your computer and phone
Chances are that during this year, you’ll find yourself somewhere in NYC frantically trying to find wifi because you just remembered an assignment is due in 10 minutes, or you need directions because you have no idea where you are. With all the adulting tools hooked up to your phone and computer (things like bank accounts, Venmo, personal information, etc.), you definitely don’t want hackers gaining access to your passwords (which, by the way, you should change frequently).
Your mattress topper with be your best friend
Good, comfortable sleep is essential to your success at Barnumbia. While you’ll already have a mattress in your room when you move in and probably 50 students before you have broken it in, it could still be too firm for your taste. Many stores sell affordable foam mattress toppers starting at around $20—do yourself a favor and invest in one.
These are just 12 tips and tricks we learned along the way that we thought were important enough to share, but there is likely an infinite number of other situations you’ll encounter as a first-year. You’ll learn more lessons along the way, but these tips will help you get started.
- Want to learn more about staying active in college? Here’s how you can do it.
- It’s hard to stay completely healthy with all the tempting options in the dining halls. Here are a couple of easy, dorm-friendly recipes to try out once you get here.
- Make sure you’re taking advantage of the programs Columbia has to promote mental and physical wellness.
- Living in a filthy space can really affect a person’s mood and health. Here’s how frequently you should clean your space (and a couple of materials you’ll need to pick up).
Mariella Evangelista is a rising Barnard sophomore and a Spectrum staff writer. She is beyond excited to meet the class of 2021. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.